First Federal Bank & Trust: Investing in employees pays off

First Federal Bank & Trust Staff, Sheridan, Wyoming

Staff join in on the 2019 Sheridan, Wyo., Rodeo Parade

Name: First Federal Bank & Trust
Assets: $392 million
Location: Sheridan, Wyo.
efirstfederal.bank


Kay Roush was just out of high school and newly married when she landed a job at First Federal Bank & Trust in Sheridan, Wyo. Roush started as a teller, then became teller supervisor, eventually managed a branch office and now, 40 years after starting at the bank, is the senior vice president and human resources manager.

Roush’s rise at First Federal Bank & Trust reveals a key reason why the $392 million-asset community bank was named a 2020 Best Community Bank to Work For: The bank values its staff and prioritizes promoting from within. In fact, in the employee survey ICBA used to evaluate the candidate banks for this award, the bank earned a composite score of 98% on the prompt: “When it comes to hiring and retention, our bank offers opportunities for employees to advance.”

“I feel that the employees know that they matter,” Roush says. “They matter to the management team. They matter to the board. And they matter to each other. It’s not unusual for an executive or a director to send an email to an employee that says, ‘Great job with that customer, we’re glad you work here.’”


First Federal Bank & Trust Leadership, Sheridan, Wyoming

First Federal Bank & Trust’s leadership team includes (from left to right) Kay Roush, senior vice president and HR manager; Tyler Neerlemer, senior vice president and IT administrator; James Wilkerson, senior vice president and chief financial officer; Kevin Bailey, president and CEO; DJ Dearcorn, senior vice president and chief commercial lending officer; Torrey Fleming, senior vice president and chief credit officer; and Chandra Legerski, senior vice president of mortgage lending.


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Who else won?

See the other Best Community Banks to Work For winners. Or see what trends came out of our survey.

First Federal Bank & Trust, which has 80 employees and four locations, has been growing steadily in recent years, says president and CEO Kevin Bailey, and that has created regular openings in the middle and upper ranks. Existing staff are considered prime candidates for those openings, even if promoting them creates holes in the bank’s organizational chart.

“We have created a culture where it’s OK to say, ‘Whoops, that decision didn’t go well. We learned from that.’” —Kevin Bailey, First Federal Bank & Trust

“We have a culture of truly helping people succeed,” says Bailey, who joined the bank 14 years ago and became president in 2018. “For example, our chief operating officer and her crew, when they identify a great upcoming teller or personal banker, they know that person may go on to another department. But they don’t hold them back—they try to help them succeed.”

Part of helping employees succeed is empowering them to make decisions, Bailey says, and they know that leadership will support them even if a decision goes sideways.

“We encourage them to make decisions and let them know that if something doesn’t work out, that’s OK,” he says. “We have created a culture where it’s OK to say, ‘Whoops, that decision didn’t go well. We learned from that.’”


First Federal Bank & Trust Staff, Sheridan, Wyoming

First Federal Bank & Trust’s Kay Roush, senior vice president and HR manager (far left) and Chandra Legerski, senior vice president of mortgage lending (far right), presented a check to Dementia Friendly Wyoming in 2019.


Tangible benefits

First Federal Bank & Trust makes sure employees are compensated well and enjoy a competitive benefits package. In addition to working with a consultant to make sure compensation is appropriate, the community bank gives each employee $300 per quarter for dependent care, mortgage debt, student loan debt, or a gym membership or other fitness expense. And employees who enjoy volunteer work can earn up to three extra days of paid time off by registering their volunteer hours.

“One of the biggest benefits we provide is we match up to 4% of an employee’s 401(k) contribution,” Bailey says, “and if you are full time, we put in 10% of your salary at the end of the year. If you hang out at First Federal for 20 years, you’ll be able to retire.”

Top Tip: First Federal Bank & Trust

When April Crump, a senior mortgage underwriter at First Federal Bank & Trust in Sheridan, Wyo., envisioned an awards program to encourage her processors to create flawless files, Kevin Bailey, the community bank’s president and CEO, quickly approved the idea.

The You Nailed It program has reduced by half the number of files that require rework. The program is an example of the success that results when bank employees are encouraged to innovate, Bailey says.

“When somebody has an idea, unless we’ve been down that road before, we say, ‘Go explore that for a little bit,’” he says. “There’s just so much more job satisfaction when they can use their own creativity.”

Bailey says staff often refer to the Japanese word “kaizen,” which means continuous improvement. “We try to help each other do better every day,” he adds. “That alone creates creativity.”


Ed Avis is a writer in Illinois.

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